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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LANKFORD. Mr. President, according to the Treasury, since 1960, Congress has acted 78 times to raise the debt ceiling. Let me run that past you again. Since 1960, we have had 78 debt ceiling increases, under Republican Presidents, Democratic Presidents, Republican Congresses, and Democratic Congresses. There has been a steady increase over and over again with the debt ceiling.

The debt ceiling was originally designed to provide a moment of fiscal restraint for Congress, a moment for Congress to look at the debt and determine whether to increase debt again or to determine how to restrain ourselves.

Going back to post-World War II, we had an enormous debt left over after World War II. That was the triggering mechanism for them. Throughout the Korean war, for instance, they didn't raise the debt ceiling. They found ways to find fiscal restraint because they had so much debt.

That doesn't even seem to be the conversation anymore. Now debt ceiling conversations are about what bill will we get it into to make sure it passes so we can just keep going. That moment of determining how we can deal with fiscal restraint seems to be gone.

Let me state just how severe this has become. Right now, our current debt to GDP--that is, gross national product--our debt compared to our gross national product is at 78 percent. That is an enormous number. That means, if you take all of the American economy, every single person in the entire country, group it all together, what they receive in pay, what they make, and put it all together, it would take 78 percent of every single person in the country to pay off our debt for an entire year.

If we were to maintain that debt-to-GDP ratio at 78 percent, just not get worse than where we are at $22 trillion right now, we asked the Congressional Budget Office how much we would either have to raise in taxes or cut in spending each year to not make it worse. The answer that came back from the Congressional Budget Office was $400 billion, but the hard part about that--not that $400 billion is not bad enough-- we would have to cut or raise in taxes $400 billion every single year for 30 years in a row. That is not the original $400 billion but a new $400 billion every year for 30 years in a row just to keep us at a debt-to-GDP ratio of 78 percent.

That is not going to happen. There is not the will in this Congress to reduce $400 billion this year much less do it every single year for 30 years in a row.

So my simple push is this. We have to get to a real conversation about what we are going to do about our debt and how we are going to respond to this.

I have committed, around any kind of debt ceiling conversation, that the conversation should not be about just raising it and going on; it should be about how we are going to address our debt. I cannot support a debt ceiling that just raises the debt ceiling without any consideration about what we are going to do to actually pay off that debt or how we are going to get on top of it.

We have a broken process. We are not dealing with debt when we talk about debt ceilings anymore, and we are facing a September 30 deadline. There is already an ongoing rumor and conversation around the hallways about could we have another government shutdown.

In the last 40 years, we have had 21 government shutdowns--21--under Republican and Democratic Presidents and under Republican and Democratic Congresses--21 government shutdowns. The one that happened earlier this year was the longest one in history, but that doesn't mean it is the longest one that will ever happen. There may be a longer one coming. The challenge is, how do we solve this issue about debt? How do we deal with some of the simple processes like government shutdowns and how do we stop those?

Government shutdowns actually cause more spending to happen because it costs so much to prepare for it. When it happens, there is a greater cost, and when restarting it, there is greater cost again. All of that is lost money. It is just a waste.

So Senator Maggie Hassan, the Democratic Senator from New Hampshire, and I have worked together to put a simple proposal together to stop government shutdowns. This is not rocket science. Most Americans can't leave their work and walk away, especially if they are small business owners. They can't walk away from their jobs unless the job is done. That is just the nature of it. So our simple idea is this. If we get to October 1--and the end of the fiscal year ends on September 30--and the work is not done on all the appropriations bills, we would have what is called a continuing resolution kick in. The funding would continue to go the same as it did the year before. It basically is putting everybody on hold but is still moving. That would protect Federal workers and make sure Federal workers and their families are not affected by the government shutdown. It would protect the taxpayers, making sure they are not having to deal with ``I can't get a permit'' and ``I can't get an answer on the phone from a government agency because there is a Federal shutdown.'' So the Federal workers and American people would be held harmless, but Members of Congress, our staffs, and the staff of the White House Office of Management and Budget, in both the House and the Senate, would all be here in Washington, DC, with no travel.

Now that may not seem like a big issue. You may say: So what. It would mean we are in session every weekday, every weekend, and cannot leave to go back and see our families. We cannot do our work that has to be done in the States, and we have work to do in our States as well. We cannot go on any kind of codel travel. We cannot take any other travel of any sort, and every day we have what is called a mandatory quorum call in the Senate and in the House. We are in session weekdays and weekends continually until the budget work is done.

I had folks say: Well, that doesn't seem like that big of an incentive.

I can assure you, the most precious commodity to Members of the House and Senate, our staff, and to members of the Office of Management and Budget is the same precious commodity every American has. It is time-- time.

If we lose the time so we can't do all of the other things we need to do until we get the budget work done, we will get the budget work done because there are a lot of things on our schedule, but our first priority should be the budget work that needs to be done.

This puts us in a position to basically do what my mom did to my brother and me. When my brother and I had an argument, my mom would lock the two of us in a room and say: You guys work this out. When you are done, you can come out of the room, but you guys keep talking until you settle it. Quite frankly, my mom would be a pretty good role model for this Congress. Lock us in the room, keep us debating until we solve it.

We had the longest shutdown in American history this past time, and it started right before Christmas. What did the Members of Congress do? They left. They left. They went home for Christmas. They went away. While Federal workers did not have their paychecks coming in, Members of Congress left town.

It is as simple and straightforward as this: Federal workers should be held harmless, and Members of Congress should be kept to stay and work it out.

Senator Hassan and I continue to work through this. We gained wide bipartisan support. It went through the first of two committees--10 to 2 as it passed the committee. Now it has a second committee to go through before it comes here. We want to build bipartisan support to say: We will have disagreements on budget. We will have disagreements on spending. But we should keep debating until we solve it. But do not loop the Federal workers and their families into this, and certainly don't harm the taxpayers in the process.

We look forward to trying to get some things resolved in this place and to keeping the debate going until we do.


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